Saturday, April 25, 2015

commercial composing toilets.

A bit ago I did a post about the diy options for composting toilets and then got distracted by the bus and didn't follow up with the commercially available options.

The big difference between a diy toilet and a commercially made toilet is what you dump out of it when it's getting full. Unlike a diy toilet where you're dumping poop that has yet to be composted, a commercial composting toilet does the composting for you and you're just dumping dirt! This makes things not only less gross but way simpler when it comes to where you can dump. While poop that has yet to be composted needs to be dumped in a compost bin the already composted poop, or 'humanure' can be dumped wherever. Looking realistically at my composting options I know I won't always live somewhere where I can have my own compost heap meaning a toilet like this is probably a good option for me.

There are a few main brands of composting toilets you can purchase. I've put together a pro/con list for each one.


Pros: Can be used with no electricity (using wind for ventilation), regular electricity or with a solar setup that they sell. 
Cons: Its huge. It costs over $2000.

 Nature's Head 
Pros: The lowest commercial price I've found - around $950. Compact. Easy to empty. Built for RV use.
Cons: Needs electricity to run a fan full time. Its not the pretties thing- you can see the urine when the tank is getting full.

 Sun Mar
 Pros: Not super huge like the Envirolet and is slightly less ugly than the Nauture's Head. Built for RV use.
 Cons: Still not the best price, over $1000 and requires an overflow tank? ew. 

Pros: It looks pretty?
Cons: I don't think any of Biolet's products are suitable for RV use.   

 Air Head
Pros: Compact. Easy to empty. Can't see the urine.
Cons: Cost a tiny bit more than the Nature's Head (like $100 more making it around $1050). You have to use liners (basically coffee filters) when you poop. 

Comparing this collection of toilets the two that really jump out are the Nature's Head and the Air Head. On the Air Head website they compare their toilet directly to the Nature's Head and show how it solves two problems of the Nature's Head, the fact you can see the urine in its container and how you need to open the solid's container when you want to empty the liquid. It is likely that the liquids will need to be emptied more often than the solids so it could be an annoying detail to have to open the solids more often than necessary. While the Nature's Head is slightly less expensive I think those two details would make it worth it to buy the Air head instead.

I've still got a bit more research to do but at the moment its looking like the Air Head may be the toilet for me!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Day 6 - a little tidying.

Today was a quick bus day. I got to work early and did a little puttering. I pulled off a few more of the funny vinyl pads that were around the doors and dash. I also pulled off the pink and white fur above he dash and the fringe came with it. I like the fringe though and may put it back up. Another bit of tidying I did was pickin. Up a bunch of the screws, nuts, bolts and washers that have littered the floor. I doubt I'll re use many of them but they are all in a big yogurt cup should I need to grab something.

It was kind of a grey and cold day today- not the usual sunny California. Had it been nice and sunny I may have been more motivated to stay out working after work. Maybe another day this week will be better. 

Goals for the rest of this week include removing the rest of the interior metal and insulation (the front and back walls and the celing) and to replace the rotted out floor bits. It would also be nice to get rid of the rust I found in the walls and floor. Maybe next Saturday will be the day. 

A side project I'm thinking of is taking part of the bus's back wall that was covered in stickers and cutting around each sticker so I could turn them into something. I'm thinking of turning them into magnets. 


Day 5- ripping out walls.

Saturday I had a lazy day but Sunday I was determined to get some good bus work done. I had a goal of getting off the metal on the interior of the walls and celing. Once I got those off I would be able to see more about the state of the insulation and framing of the bus. The framing info is particularly useful so ican start planning how to raise the roof.

The walls and roof are attached with pop rivits. To remove them I just started drilling in the center until the metal ring popped off. I went around and did all the rivits on the walls and was able to rip the metal right off. Underneath was a bunch of pink, fiberglass insulation. I debated a moment or two keeping the insulation. It wasn't too beat up. Maybe it's something I could have researched more about what other skoolie folks have done, but just went with the decision that this insulation was 24 years old and ready for the trash. 

When I went to start drilling out the roof's rivits I realized the bolts from the roof railing were going all the way through the roof, so I would need to remove it to remove the interior roof. I got most of the nuts off with an impact driver and went up to the roof to get the old bolts out. A few just spun when I tried to get the nuts off. It would have been helpful to have a second person on the roof to hold those bolts still, but after working on another project for a bit I realized I could just cut the nuts off with a grinder. The railing needed a few good wacks to come off the roof once the bolts were out. There was calking around the bolts to keep them waterproof which also kept it pretty well glued to the roof.

So I didn't get to the interior roof, but with the detour of taking off the railing I think I had a pretty productive day. Maybe sometime this week/end if I can wrangle my silent partner into helping I'll get that roof off. 

Hey look I'm caught up on blogging!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

day 4-introductions and planning

Day four is a short one in bus land. I showed off the bus to a few friends from work and told then about my plans. And then after work sat in the bus and made a list of the tasks I hope to get done in the next week or so. I was waiting for my silent partner to get off work and it was hot in the bus so I slipped way to gets beer and write some blog stuff (where I am now!) and now I think of it I left the windows open in the bus cause of how hot it was... When my silent partner gets off work I'll be giving him a tour of the bus. Let's hope he isn't scared off by how small it is. In hoping he and I can talk over the list of work I want to do and make a plan.

Here is the list I made. 

-remove the interior walls and ceilings. Once removed I'll be able to remove the old insulation and take a peek at how it is framed so I can plan how to raise the roof. 

-remove a few other interior things leftover from it's life as a real bus and/or as a burner bus. 

-replace the sections of rotten plywood on the floor. 

-deal with the rust on the floor under the rotten plywood. This could involve wire-wheeling off the rust then painting the metal or removing the metal compleatly. 

I'm hoping some/most of these things can happen this weekend. We shall see how it goes. 


day 3- corvallis to berkeley.

The bus has successfully made it's journey from Corvallis to Berkeley. It was a bit of a stressful adventure, but there were no serious problems and now the next phase of work can begin!

The goal was to leave Corvallis by 9 am. That morning we had to pick up a rental car (for my parents to drive down as my support vehicle) and drop off the dogs at the vet where they were being borded. Both of these things we could do any time after 8 am. I course neither happened until around 9 and then we had to make more coffee and then we could get on the road, so we left more like 10-10:30. The drive is conservatively around 10 hours but I was anticipating it taking us around 12 assuming the bus drove a bit slow and we stopped for lunch. 

My dad and I agreed to switch off driving the bus. It is incredibly loud to drive, mostly because the cover for the engine that is inside the bus is kind of loose and not containing much engine noise. Also it's just a big ass engine and makes a lot of noise. As such, we wore ear plugs while driving, or in my case an ear plug and a headphone. Another exhausting aspect of driving the bus is it's rather sensitive steering. It easily over corrects and requires the driver to be very attentive to staying in one's lane. To add to this the steering wheel is still crooked which I think added to my difficulty with driving smoothly. My theory about the bus's touchy-ness is that there was not much weight in the bus for the drive so the engine did not have as much resistance as it may be used to. The precious owner did mention that it is much happier when it has a bit of a load. I am hoping this issue will be corrected with the addition of all my stuff. 

The one plus side of having to be fairly allert while driving the bus is the time spent driving it seemed to fly by. I did the first shift of driving, between Corvallis and Ashland, and the four hours went by incredibly fast. I have been told though that when you add the stress of driving in Bay Area traffic at night, 1 hour feels like 10. 

I was a little disappointed we couldn't stop in Ashland for lunch on the way down. Knowing we had a time constraint I gave up on trying to visit any friends on the way down, but I atleast hoped to eat at a favorite restaurant and see the town. We were worried about time though, so we elected to have a snack in the parking lot when we pulled over for fuel instead. 

I've been making a big effort to get used to saying fuel or diesal instead of gas. When referig to the bus. The previous owner has a horror (or alternatively epic) story of someone accidentally putting gas instead of diesal in the bus and needing to get it towed the rest of the way into Burning Man. Now I have a fear I may accidentoy say 'fill it with regular! At the station instead of 'fill it with diesal!' Though I also keep forgetting I'm in California now and will a filling it myself. :p

Another funny thing about my bus and fuel, the fuel gauge doesn't work. I've got a little notebook on the dash where I write down my miles and how many gallons I put in each time I go to the station so I can guesstimate how much I've got left. Doing some math based on my first few fills I get somewhere between 15 and 18 miles per gallon. That was mostly highway driving mind you. 

The other discovery while driving it down was that the dash lights barely work. They glow a tiny bit but not reeeeally enough to see what speed you're going. I had switched driving with my dad to do the at reach between Redding and Vacaville and as it started to get dark I realized I couldn't see the dash. I stuck behind an rv that was driving between 60 and 65 mph for a while and then pulled over at a convient rest stop. My dad was able to get the lights a bit brighter by fiddling with a dial that made them brighter by turning counter clockwise (how silly) and then offered to drive the rest of the way. That will be on the list of things to fix sooner rather than later. A temporary option could be to rig up a little led light to point at the dash. My dad had made one for me when the lifts on my Subaru weren't working (I ment to grab one before we left incase the dash lights were problematic but forgot. Silly me.) 

The bus is now safely (mostly) parked in front of my work. The neighborhood where Berkeley Rep's shop is has a lot of rvs, buses and vans parked on the streets so I figure it is a good place to park mine too. I am checking on ot every day incase someone breaks into it and it is currently parked right outside the window of the room I mostly work in so I can keep an eye on it. Also with the bus parked near my work I'll be able to work on it with tools from my work and/or drive it into the shop for big stuff like painting it and the roof raise. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

day 2 - floors and roof.

I just started and I'm already days behind in my blogging! Here is an account of Saturday's work on the bus.

My dad and I had made our list the night before of things that had to be done before the drive down to Berkeley.

-Fix the turn signals. Only the back work right now.
-Add a hasp to the wheelchair door so it can lock from the inside.
-Rotate the steering wheel so it is straight.
-Remove extra stuff inside such as the furry walls and the rest of the rubber floor.

I also forgot to add in my last post that we needed to screw down plywood covers for the holes in the roof. 

We started off our list by doing some errands for tools and supplies. We picked up a partial sheet of 1/2 plywood for the holes from habitat for humanity, a steering wheel puller from the auto part's store, a giant crowbar from a garage sale and then a new impact driver/screw gun set, tek screws, weather stripping and a hasp from home depot. The impact driver and screw gun weren't really necessary but it made the work go that much faster and they will be useful this summer when we head out to the Oregon Country Fair. 

After all this my dad and I split up to tackle our list. He started on the roof by cleaning up the areas around the holes and cutting plywood patches to go over them. He used the weatherstripping to make a waterproof seal around the edges and the tek screws to screw it into the roof of the bus. After attaching the plywood he added a layer of spray paint for a little more water proofing. 

Down on the inside of the bus I was continuing to tear out the floor and the fuzzy walls. With the fuzzy walls I was quite glad to have that new impact driver, took the 3" screws right out of the 2x4. I also pulled off a few of the metal bits on the inside. There were two long pieces of angle iron running on the wall between the floor and windows where the seats would attach as well as a piece hanging off of the top of the windows. Some of the metal and 2x4 pieces I will keep to try to re use, others went to the trash/recycle.

Also on our list, my dad pulled off the steering wheel and cleaned the contacts for the turn signals. Usually it would be a copper plate where the wires touch but it was so dirty it looked like just a copper scratch where it was trying to make contact. After cleaning them the turn signals still have their quirks (one side you have to pull back to center when you're finished and the other side you've got to hold up because it wants to go back to center too soon) but they light up now! He was also able to put the steering wheel back on a little more straight. Before it was on at a 90 degree angle of what it should be. Now its like 5-10 degrees off center. Still a little confusing while driving but you can see the dashboard now. Speaking of dashboards he also replaced some of the dash lights that were burnt out. We discovered more about that that I will talk about in the next post though.

After all this we gave it a good sweep and vacuum. Dare I say it but it is looking like a pretty neat space. 


Sunday, April 12, 2015

day 1 - mechanic

I typed out a lovely thing about bus day 1 and it decided to disappear from my phone. So here is take two.

When I arrived in Corvallis on Thursday the bus was off at the shop. We were hoping to pick it up that day but it needed to stay until Friday. When we found it had some problems I was initially hoping to pay around $300 to get it working again. Both the alternator and water pump were not happy but we hoped they could just replace a belt or a leaky tube or something and it would be cheaper. When it went into the shop we found they did need to replace both parts and it would be around $600-$800. Not great, but acceptable. On Friday we went to pick it up and the bill was $1012. Definitely not ideal, but it was a free bus and now it is a $1000 bus. Still way better than buying a bus for $2000 then finding out it needed $1000 worth of work. But now the bus has been paid for and its all ready to come down to Berkeley! I may be eating beans and rice for the rest of the month though...

After spendy adventures with the mechanic we brought the bus home and I did a little test drive round the block. I was a little worried about it being so big and how well I could drive it, but I've been driving the large van at work (which I think is actually the van version of the bus) and it drove about the same so I'm not too worried.

I started to sweep out the large amount of playa (burning man) dust from inside the bus but realized I was just going to be ripping up most of the floor so it was silly for me to clean it first. With a crowbar and vice grips I was able to tear out about half of the rubber flooring on Friday. Under the rubber I found pretty decent plywood. It appears to be that the adhesive used to attach the rubber to the ply made a good seal and not much water was able to get in because most of the ply looks brand new.  There were however two spots where it was rotted out (the back corners especially by the wheelchair lift) but I believe I can replace just those two spots. Under the rot the metal was a bit rusty but not so bad as I could knock a hole through it. I also learned that between the ply and the body of the bus there is a thicker steel plate atleast on the back section. Perhaps there is a bigger steel plate because that is where the wheelchair lift was. I am hoping I can clean up this plate and get rid of the rust. If it doesn't seem salvageable I will remove it and see about replacing it or not using it at all.

Beyond that my dad and I made a list of everything that we need to drive it down to Berkeley. Things we will accomplish the next day.

-Fix the turn signals. Only the back work right now.
-Add a hasp to the wheelchair door so it can lock from the inside.
-Rotate the steering wheel so it is straight.
-Remove extra stuff inside such as the furry walls and the rest of the rubber floor.

I'll let you know how that all goes in another post!


Monday, April 6, 2015

diy composting toilets.

Last time I shared three basic types of toilets you could find in a tiny house; black water toilets, incinerating toilets and composting toilets. I've decided composting toilets are the way to go for me, but there are still quite a few options for me to think about, the main thing being commercially made toilets or diy toilets. First off let's talk about diy toilets!

The basic idea of any composting toilet is that poop, like other compostable stuff such as food and yard scraps will eventually  break down into soil. If done correctly composted poop is perfectly safe to handle and use in your garden. Most people still choose to not use humanure (poop dirt!) in their food growing garden just in case any bad stuff is still lingering. 

Everything you could ever want to know about humanure or as I am now calling it, poop magic, can be found in  Joseph Jenkin's The Humanure Handbook. I've only read a bit of it so far but there is lots of good info that will get you thinking not only about how you use the toilet but also what you throw in your garbage can. 

The main difference between diy toilets and the commercially made type is where the composting action takes place. In a commercially available one your toilet has a built in fan, heater and crank or rake to move about the composting matter. With a diy toilet you're really just collecting the poop to later dump it onto your outdoor compost pile. I'm still hunting around if I can find some more info on building my own more complicated system that would have the elements of a commercially available composting toilet. I'll let you know how thats going later. 

To build a simple diy composting toilet you don't need much at all! The basic toilet is a 5 gallon bucket with a seat on top. Most folks build a box around the bucket with a seat on top so it looks a little nicer. With these toilets you can use regular toilet paper and you also use a carbon rich dry material to layer in with the poop such as coco coir, peat moss or sawdust. 

If you're feeling fancy you can also add a urine diverter! The reason to separate liquids and solids goes along with another big concern many people have about composting toilets which is smell. Most of my research tells me that they don't actually smell that bad and if it does smell that is usually a clue that you don't have your balance of carbon rich substance to poop quite right. Some people also swear by the fact that separating liquids and solids makes all the difference (though some disagree) with making a less smelly toilet. A urine diverted is pretty much a funnel type device that attaches to the front of the seat so anything in that funnel goes to a different bucket. Another benefit of separating urine is that urine doesn't have to be composted! Being a sterile liquid already, urine can be disposed of the same as grey water such as just dumping it outside (away from anything/one that cares). 

This option of toilet wouldn't be horrible if I can find somewhere to live where I can have a poop compost pile. If I'm not living somewhere like that (such as a more urban space) this isn't such a great option and I'd probably have to get a more fancy, commercially made, composting toilet, which I'll tell you about next time!

corvallis bus.

The bus has made it to Corvallis! 

This weekend my dad and uncle took an adventurous trip over the pass to Bend where the bus has lived until now. They did a few repairs to it, spent the night in the previous owner's house then headed out in the morning! The repairs they did included cleaning the wires for the turn signals so they would make contact, covering the holes in the roof and replacing the windshield wipers.  Here is a list (compiled by my wonderful father) of what still needs some attention before I drive south next weekend. 

 * The temporary plexiglas cover we put on the roof broke off
 * A few other holes in the roof from some previously attached things do leak a bit of water in on the driver if it's raining (ask me how I know!)
 * Seat belt doesn't "catch" if you give it a sharp tug, so probably not so useful
 * Horn button gone (but you can short out the two connections for the horn with a piece of metal to make it honk!)
 * Alternator
 * It leaked radiator fluid out of around the water pump, so maybe new pump and gasket
 * Some kind of lock for the back door where the wheelchair lift used to be

Not knowing what quirks would show up on the road we were prepared to call the previous owner to use his AAA should trouble arise. The battery did die along the way, seems the alternator isn't keeping it charged so the precious owner met up with my dad to give it a jump and they were on their way!

I'll be making my way to Oregon on Thursday (by plane) to spend time wth my family and then the bus and I shall make our way to California! (My dad may come too) 


Sunday, April 5, 2015

poop magic.

If you know a thing or two about tiny houses, or you've hung out with me at all in the last few months, you knew this day was coming. Its time to talk about poop. Yes indeedy, one big part of living in my bus in the future is going to be having a toilet in the bus! For those who are wondering, the title comes from many a conversation about poop I've been having with one of my co conspirators lately. Our conclusion is that composting toilets are magic because they turn poop into dirt!

To start out let me tell you a smidge about the types of options one has for putting a toilet in their tiny houses.

The basic RV toilet is using a more or less normal toilet (I think they have less water than standard though) and the water and waste go into a black water tank. A black water tank differs from a grey water tank because black water is full of poop and really can only be dumped in sewage dump places. Grey water on the other hand has sink and shower stuff (food and dirt residue and soap) and can be dumped other places such as outside if you use biodegradable soap. Basically black water tanks are gross and I don't want one.

Another option for compact toilets are the incinerating toilet. These toilets are nice because they are pretty small and what once you've burned the poop all up you're left with ash! This ash is easy to dispose of and not super gross like black water. The down side of the incinerating toilet is it uses a lot of electricity so unless you're planning to hook your house up to the grid (not doing solar like I'm planning to) its not really an option. I've also heard that the burning of poop is smelly, who would have guessed.

And so we get to composting toilets! This is what I want by the way. Composting toilets are awesome. As I said above they're so awesome that they are magic, because they turn poop into dirt! Composting toilets basically work because poop is like most other organic material and can be put in the compost and it will decompose into dirt. This dirt can go in the compost bin and be used in the garden (only for non eatable things though, don't use poop compost on your veggies!) it can also just be spread about outside. I suppose in a pinch it can also go in the trash in a biodegradable bag. There are some legal thingys about throwing human waste in the trash, but this is dirt, so hmm.

There are a few types of composting toilets available and I'm still deciding what I want to do, but that is for another time.